Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Members of the Missoula City Council on Monday night said goodbye to Heidi West and John Contos, thanking them for their tenure and their commitment to the city.

Neither member sought reelection and their terms expire this month. And while it happens every few years as members come and go, saying farewell to some can be harder than others.

“(West) is strong and smart, and she has grit, and I really appreciate that about her,” said council president Gwen Jones. “She's been instrumental in getting more affordable housing built in our community because she was at the right place at the right time and knows so much about that industry. There are many folks in Missoula who are housed because of (West).”

As for Contos, Jones thanked him for his unique perspective.

“We all live in our own ward and we all have our certain circles, but John is broad-reaching in terms of his interaction in our community and he'd share people's thoughts and opinions with us,” said Jones. “He's a kind and caring person.”

West, who served eight years on City Council, entered city politics when the White Pine Sash property on Scott Street was being eyed for remediation. At the time, the EPA had sought to clean the property to industrial standards, making it viable for certain post-industrial uses.

However, West led the charge in pushing the EPA to clean at least half the property to residential standards. Now, eight years later, the city has partnered with a private developer in one of the largest affordable housing projects of its kind, along with several hundred units of market-rate housing.

“I'm going to miss being here to some extent,” West said. “I also know this community is in good hands and I don't need to be here for things to move forward. I'm not going anywhere. I'm still building affordable housing, just not on TV. It's been a long eight years.”

City Council members John Contos and Sandra Vasecka. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)
City Council members John Contos and Sandra Vasecka. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Contos, who runs a small business, won his seat on City Council four years ago. In that time, he has emerged as one of the council's few conservative members, often voting on the side of taxpayers and against programs some view as another city want, not as a need.

In his business, Contos interacts with a wide range of Missoula residents, breaking beyond the familiar political circles that limit some members. For that, others have come to appreciate his views and unique insight.

“I don't think we agree on a lot of things on council, but I think we care about a lot of the same things,” said council member Amber Sherrill. “We do come at it from a different angle. But I know how much you love your family and your grandson. I have appreciated so much getting to know you.”

Contos described the work as a council member as difficult and consuming. He said he was looking forward to spending more time with family.

“It's hard to believe that four years just kind of flew by,” he said. “I was a little hesitant running for City Council, and even more shocked when I won. It was completely outside of my comfort zone, but I think that's something you need to do in order to grow.”

He said being a council member isn't about money, “and I hope it never is.”